We walked out of Atlantic City (uphill of course) after a hearty breakfast at the Miner’s Grubstake, and made our way to South Pass City, where we would collect our first resupply of this journey on the CDT. A hefty headwind dogged us the entire 4.5 miles to South Pass City. I don’t know why we were surprised.
When we arrived at South Pass City, they initially said that they did NOT have our resupply package. WTF?! A frantic search for our shipping receipt ensued so we could call the postal service to find out what happened. The gal told us there was a hiker box in the storage area that we could go through and maybe resupply from there. I followed her to the storage area, and immediately saw our package. She had overlooked it. Phew!! At the “thru-hiker” picnic table, we unpacked our resupply…6 days of food = nearly 12 additional pounds. Yikes! And yes, we added bear spray and for some reason our microspikes. (The last time we saw the Wind River Range, it had been blasted with snow…again. We tend to over prepare.) The start of this leg was going to be onerous.
South Pass City is a Wyoming State Historical Park that the CDT happens to travel through. The significance of South Pass City is not only that there was a gold rush here as well, but it is a geological anomaly wherein there is a break in the Continental Divide mountain range that allows passage over to the west coast. South Pass is the lowest point on the Continental Divide, and is natural crossing point of the Rockies. It was also pretty much the “half way” point of the Oregon Trail. Nearly half a million people immigrated to the West through this Pass, which makes it a more than significant land mark in our Great American Western history.
5 miles out of South Pass City we find ourselves resting in the shade, on perfectly flat, non-pokey ground,without the use of an umbrella. There are trees here. Actual trees! Pines and Aspens. A reprieve from the wind we hide amongst the trees on soft debris free ground for our first break.
This is not to say we didn’t have a 20 mph headwind the entire time. And…that it wasn’t mostly an uphill experience. At least it involved different scenery.
We are not sure if we are in bear country yet, so we now have the added wrinkle of hanging our food bags and hoping they are still there in the morning.
**this post is a bit long. You have been forewarned
Day 8: (5 miles)
Up with the morning sun, we continue our road walk into Atlantic City for breakfast. We eat our last Snicker’s bar knowing that fresh food is “near”. Five trucks passed us going the opposite direction. Not gonna lie, if one was to have been going our way and asked us if we wanted a ride, we would have taken it. But…that didn’t happen. When we reached the turn off to Atlantic City, we made note of the “trail” to South Pass City. It was going to be an overland bushwack for the most part.
When we rolled into Atlantic City, we saw one person. Bob Boyd (his name was on his Air Force Veteran’s hat, and the next day we would have a lengthy and pleasant conversation). We asked him where we could get something to eat.
He directed us to the Miner’s Grubstake. We rolled in just in time for breakfast.
The owners, Dale and Laurel are “expats” from California, and were our server, cook and bartender. Considering that it began to rain while we were eating breakfast, we asked Laurel if she knew of a place to stay for the night. Turns out she had a cabin for rent that included, a hot shower, laundry, WiFi and Cable TV. For the two of us, it was a deal we couldn’t resist.
The cabin, turns out, is a historic building built in 1868. It was originally the Assay Building during the first gold rush era of Atlantic City. This is would have been where the Miner’s had their gold weighed and recorded. We wondered how much gold slipped under the original flooring. And no, there was no easy access to under the cabin… we looked. Laurel got a good laugh out of that.
Day 9:(Zero Day)
The evening before, while dining on the best burgers we have ever had, we asked Laurel if we could stay another night. “No problem”, was her answer. We were worked. We have found that as we get older, our recovery time gets longer and longer. We didn’t need to enter the Wind River Range on half a tank, so we spent another night/day with our feet up.
Business was sort of “slow”, due to COVID-19. This however, allowed us to talk quite a bit with Laurel who is jovial and quite endearing. We hit it off immediately. I asked her how she and Dale found themselves in Atlantic City. She and Dale had been to Sturgeous (the motorcycle rally), stopped in at Atlantic City, and basically “fell in love with the town”. Laurel, a licensed nurse (Graduate of UC Davis) sold her Elderly Board and Care business in California when they moved to Atlantic City, and then they bought the Miner’s Grubstake. They have owned and operated the Miner’s Grubstake for going on 12 years now. They are looking to sell and “retire”, but they have no plans to move. She just wants to be able to “sit on the other side of the bar”. There is no mistaking that both Dale and Laurel love their life in Atlantic City. They enjoy meeting people from “all over the world” and for the most part “being the local hub”, especially during the winter. Laurel said that the town “swells to around 57 residents during the summer”, with around “35 diehards” year round.
The town host an annual “Greater Atlantic City Golf Tournament”. There is, in fact, ONLY one hole that ends into a tuna can with an ATV flag to mark it. It’s advertised as a “Hole 1, par 72 ” 4wd/cross country course.
You have 10 balls to start with, and start way up the hill at the Big Atlantic Gulch “Y”. It sounded like a blast and were dismayed that our timing was such that we couldn’t be around for it on July 11. We have vowed to return and play in that tournament. It’s right up our alley. Three Stooges style of golf.
I asked Laurel who does most of the cooking. She pointed directly at Dale. “I’ll make the soups and salads, but he mostly cooks. He’s the grill master”, she said with a smile.
Laurel’s expertise clearly is being the “hostess with the mostess”, and making killer Bloody Mary’s. “The secret is leaving a little in the shaker, so you can taste it and make sure it’s good”, she told me.
*A little history about the Miner’s grubstake building:
The building was originally the Green Mountain Inn, bar and restaurant and resided in Jeffery City. It was moved to Atlantic City in 1986
1988 it was called the “Red Cloud Saloon”
1999, a change of ownership renamed it to the “Dredger Station Bar and Cafe”
2006, a change of ownership renamed it to the “Miner’s Grubstake Bar and Restaurant”
2009, Dale and Laurel bought the Miner’s Grubstake, expanded it’s footprint and installed two custom bar tops. The wood came from a single Red Cedar tree from California. The bar top measures 22ft long and 4 inches thick. (It is truly beautiful, and beers slide over the top…just like in the ‘Old West’ movies)
When we weren’t eating, we wandered around the town on a walking tour of the historic buildings. It is said that Atlantic City is home to the oldest building in Wyoming.
We also got an inside look and tour of the Miner’s Delight Inn. It’s co-owner, Bob Boyd gave us a tour and told us some wonderful stories of his life. The Miner’s Delight Inn, in it’s original “hey-day” in the 1970’s is said to have “put Atlantic City on the map”. The original owners (Paul and Gina Newman…not the actor Paul Newman) were escaping the hustle and bustle of city life to run a fine dining establishment. Paul was a Cordon Bleu trained chef. Dining was by reservation only, and you ate whatever the chef had prepared for the evening. Prior to the building being an Inn and dining establishment, it was the site of an early military camp, Camp Stambaugh. Boyd lifted the table cloth draped over a long table. “See, this is one of the mess tables from the Camp”. He also showed us the original, still working, stove by which meals from that era were cooked.
History can be found in the most obscure of places. This is the beauty of walking from place to place, and taking the time to speak with the “locals”. As we talked more with Boyd, he told us of his now deceased wife whom he met in second grade and grew up with. Her dad liked him, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day. “She was a beauty and could have anyone she wanted. I was a tall gangly redhead. I couldn’t compete”. He entered the Air Force and specialized in procurement and negotiations. He served during the Cuban Missle Crisis, in Turkey and in Vietnam. When he returned to California, he received a “call” from the girl who only saw him as a childhood friend. They began writing each other. He said he “played hard to get”, but eventually “got the girl of his dreams”. They were married for 57 years, before she died of cancer. When he left military service he became a “rescuer” and collector of Classic cars, and built a 30 year business from it. He said it all started when he saw a bunch (500) of “old” cars on a country farm. The owner was selling them for scrap metal. Boyd bought 350 cars for $25/each. The rest is history. He has a collection of 30+ Classic cars, and showed us pictures of his favorites. He drives a fire red Corvette. I told him of my garaged classic Ford. His eyes brightened, like a kindred soul. As he talked he kept apologizing for “keeping” us “so long”. We told him we enjoyed his stories and thought his life was fascinating. Because it was. We were talking to a well decorated Veteran who served his/our country well. Why wouldn’t we want to listen. Thank you Bob Boyd, for giving us the time of day. The pleasure was all ours.
Ironically, we had never planned on making a stop at Atlantic City, but we are glad we did. The side trip enriched our lives, fattened our bellies and rested our bodies.
Up early, our goal was to get to South Pass City to pick up our resupply. Well, that didn’t happen. Along the way we tarried at the Oregon Trail, California Trail and the 35 mile Seminoe Cut-off, trying to look for wagon wheel remnants. (These trails were the “freeway” systems of the early pioneers.) Then we soaked our feet in a slough, bathed in a river and dined by a creek. Such is the life of now a quasi-thru-hiker. (We’ve decided that we’re in no hurry to push miles, and to focus on enjoying the journey)
The tread wasn’t any different, but our conversation was. Here we were complaining about our feet, the tread and the heat, and then we’re faced with pioneer’s pathways of the 1840’s. We’re not worthy. They had leather soled boots, “heavy” clothing and no navigation devices besides a scout, the stars and maybe previous tread (wagon) marks from prior travelers.
The Oregon Trail is 2170 miles long. Most people (350-500 THOUSAND) left out of Kanas City. So by the time they reached the part(s) of the trail we were treading on, they were pretty well seasoned. They averaged 160 days to Oregon. That’s about 12-15 miles a day. Again , we are not worthy. We have a lighter load and good maps, and still only manage to make 15 miles a day.
The California Trail broke off from the Oregon Trail and led directly to the California gold fields. Unlike the current “population” of the CDT, groups of 20-50 wagons would travel together on these trails. Finding water was just as important then as it is now, traveling through The Great Basin.
The Seminoe Cut-Off allowed travelers to avoid the 4 crossings of the Sweetwater River. We on the other hand were looking forward to the Sweetwater River. The benefit of the Seminoe Cut-Off was there was a bridge over the Sweetwater River, originally fashioned by French fur traders. One of the bridges builders was called “Seminoe”, hence the Seminoe Cut-Off name.
When we got to the Harris Slough, we watered up a bit and soaked our hot and swollen feet in its icy pools.
We tried to entice the tiny minnows to “feast” on our calloused feet, like in those fancy pedicure places, but we had no takers.
Next stop was the breathtakingly beautiful Sweetwater River, and a much needed bath. We didn’t bother to strip down, but soaped up (with biodegradable Camp Soap) and did our best to rid ourselves of the grime and nearly unbearable stank.
Once “clean” and refreshed, we started on our way once again. We didn’t make it far (5 minutes), as it was still ridiculously hot. Instead we took the first turn-off down to Willow Creek. Here we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging on soft grass, in the shade of young Willow trees, by a swiftly flowing creek, waiting out the heat.
I made an interesting discovery in the creek looking for fish. I found a Mayfly larve. I fly fish with Mayflies, but have never seen Mayfly larve.
Rather than carrying our water for dinner, we decided to dine at the creek. This made for a lighter carry, and we resumed walking toward the “cooler” part of the day. The sun does not set till well after 9 pm so we had plenty of daylight to do another 4-6 miles.
We followed the trail markers and confirmed our path with Guthook. Suddenly the “easy” tread of ranch roads disappeared, but the trail markers and Guthook had us bushwacking overland through the Sagebrush.
This was toward twilight, and considering the likelihood of stepping over a bush and onto a snake, or overturning an ankle, we searched for an alternative. We honestly have it a good “college try”, but eventually said “F-it. What are we doing?!” There also was no place for us to adequately set up our tent. Luckily 3/10th of a mile from where we stood was a road that parallels the CDT trail. Even better, said road eventually intersects with the CDT. This was a “no brainer”. We took our heading and began to walk in the direction of the road. Miraculously I found a “game” trail that led directly to the road. (I strongly suspect that most people on the CDT get to the point where we were and decide to do the same thing. Hence the “game” trail.
Once we reached the road we were greeted with a magnificent headwind. We walked until we found a safe place off the improved gravel road to camp for the night. The wind howled and the skies threatened to rain. We took an inventory of our food and decided that a side trip to Atlantic City was in order. And with that we went to sleep as our tent leaned sideways in the wind.
When we finished the evening before, we half ass erected our tent, we were so worn out. Never did we think hurricane like winds would make our already uncomfortable tent, even more uncomfortable. (Our tent is the equivalent of Paul wearing skinny jeans. It’s uncomfortable for both of us…we should have gotten the 3-man and not worried about the minimal “extra” weight).
We had staked down the corners of our Big Agnes TigerWall 2UL tent, but not deep. We didn’t face it structurally to withstand direct wind. Besides the clips on the fly to the tent body, and the stakes for the vestibule doors, we didn’t guy anything out. BIG Mistake!
No sooner did we close our eyes, but great wind gusts began to buffet our tent. Quickly we reached under the fly and fastened the velcro tabs to the tent poles, and pulled our gear more snuggly under the vestibules. We briefly considered getting out to pound in the stakes but then surely our tent would blow away if we were not in it. Therefore, we rode it out. It was like trying to sleep in the dryer section of an automatic car wash…but you’re NOT in your car.
We obviously were exhausted enough to eventually fall asleep, and awoke, thankfully, to no winds. Concerned the wind “switch” would be flipped again, we packed up as quickly as we could and were on our way.
The air was crisp enough to start out with our puffies on, but with clear skies, we knew the sun, and possibly wind, would become brutal…again.
Umbrellas up way before our breakfast stop. We were amazed at the “wealth” of available water there was in this section of The Great Basin.
Springs and rivelets filling clear pools of crisp cool water made for swaths of greenery in a bland pallet of scenery.
Gangs of wild horses flourish here in The Basin. They found our umbrellas curious and would come closer to us than we expected. It was a little disconcerting, but amazing as well.
If you don’t pay attention, you’ll pass this one even if your en route to it. If there is a sign that says “No Camping within this fence”…and a wooden chicane, investigate further.
If I didn’t have 20-15 vision I would have been hard pressed to see the short, squat, silver cistern nestled within a tan rock outcropping. Up to this point the day had been a long hot, monotonous haul. We were blessed with relatively flat tread, a few ups and a gentle breeze that allowed us to use our umbrellas.
With already “enough” water to make it to Weasel Springs we passed more than a few clear spring fed ponds and gently flowing “creeks” to camel up and eat our lunch here. We walked down the narrow green meadow and dropped our packs on the large rocks. Opened the lid of the cistern and found a thin sheen of bugs floating on the surface nearly a foot below the top edge. No worries, we have a Katadyn Hiker Pro pump. We’ll get the water below the bugs. Paul lowered the nozzle into the drink and began to pump with great difficulty. Shit, our pump is clogged… probably with cow shit from the cow pond water. Normal attempts via the directions to unclog it failed…too much shit (literally).
To clean the filter required a sacrifice… Paul’s toothbrush. He was able to “clean” it off enough to collect several liters of the icy clear spring water. It’s a safe bet that we will be ordering another replacement filter as we continue on.
Here we spread our tyvex and enjoyed cold water, lunch and a bit of a siesta before pushing on.
Our next stop, would be Upper Mormon Spring, for water and the evening camp spot. Now that was truly and “Easter egg” hunt. Directions on Guthook were vague.
But after “grass cup” walking, we located the spring and then set up camp. We still had a few miles in us, but we were in an oasis, surrounded by wild horses, docile cattle and super chickens (sage grouse). Who could ask for more? An amazing sunset? We’ll, we had that too.
Like it or not today was going to be at least 19 miles. We got up with the sunrise, packed up and headed on our way. Breakfast would be “served” at the next water 3.4 miles away with a 800 ft elevation gain. We weren’t sure how we would feel having slogged through a torrential downpour and miles upon miles of “beach” sand the previous day. The air was crisp and the scenery was vast. This would be our first glimpse of actual trees!
At the apex of our climb we found that we had cell signal, strong enough to send an email, listen to voicemail and log into my InReach account to make some changes.
Today was all about water management. Camel up at each source. Carry enough to make it from each source. Take into account the fact that it was going to be a scorching clear day, seemingly void of any wind…a Wyoming first (for us). Water was a-plenty for the first 8 miles, and the tread, while mostly stair stepping up, was easy on the feet, legs and lungs (mostly). Having come from sea level, we still were not fully acclimated to the increasing elevation. In any event, we were feeling pretty good. The only thing we had to complain about was our new Sea to Summit pillows that just don’t take into account those “side sleepers” with broad shoulders. In the midst of our complaining, we neglected to negotiate an important turn just after a gate and continued straight down what we thought was the CDT for half a mile. By the grace of God, Paul happened to decide to recheck where the next water source was, only to discover that we were not only off trail, but going in the complete WRONG direction. Embarrassed, we turned around. It was then that we saw where we were supposed to be. For a brief moment, we considered bushwacking across the ravine that separated us from the actual trail. Remembering that “short cuts” aren’t always short, we about-faced and stomped back uphill to where we had gone wrong. We made our own little trail marker in hopes of saving other CDT hikers from making the same mistake.
Once on the right path we wandered over hill and dale, still amazed at the vastness of this country. Most people would say that there is “nothing” to see, but I beg to differ.
Wide open spaces. Rich blue skies, accented with brilliant white clouds that take on a life of their own. Hidden springs oozing from the folds of rolling hills creating narrow blankets of rich greenery where wildlife, cattle and pioneers of not too long ago refresh themselves. Fresh, clean air that carries the scent of sage. An ecosystem that is “built” for and thrives in these very conditions. This is not to say it isn’t brutally monotonous walking, but the wonder and beauty are still there.
The trail took us from sagebrush plains and through a narrow pine pocked forested hillside, where we spied mule deer feeding. Down the trail led to a fenced off spring area that was little more than a cowy mud pit. Bummer, as this was supposed to be where we refilled our water. A quick check on Guthook showed two “ponds” a little further down the trail. Only problem is that we had to get through the throng of cattle milling about, and blocking our way. Paul employed his best cowboy impression (based on Westerns we’ve watched) to get the cows moooving. And then there was the bull.
He stared us down big time, and lowered his head. Shit. This is NOT going to end well, we thought. It was like Paul and the bull were playing “chicken”. Luckily, Paul won and the bull reluctantly turned and walked away. Most likely because his herrum (the bull’s) was walking away as a result of Paul’s, “Ya! Get a move on! Ya! Let’s go!”, and waving of his arms.
After herding the cattle out of our way, we took a side trip down to one of the two large ponds. Here we rested for our hour and filtered ice tea colored water, that looked sort of “clear”…once filtered.
Based on Guthook, our next water was another cow pond, or the CDTC water cache…12 miles. The water was best served with highly concentrated Crystal light lemonade, or other flavor additive, but it would have to do.
We climbed for the remainder of the afternoon and into the early evening.
Miraculously we had little to no wind, and were able to use our umbrellas to reduce the temperature to a “comfortable” 95°.
We “lunched” atop one of the high points on the trail where we got cell reception and watched a YouTube video of a group of gals (The Wander Women) who were about a week ahead of us on the CDT.
With feet slightly recovered, we marched on taking breaks as necessary in addition to our 4 mile routine. As daylight was turning to dusk, we walked past the cow ponds located a mile before the cache. We had 1.5 liters of water left between us. Do we stop here and get water…just in case? Or do we press on, and go for the cache? When thru-hiking it is never a good idea to rely on caches, but we figured we take a gamble. Our fall back plan was that if we got to the cache and it was empty, we’d spend the night there, use our 1.5 liters for dinner, and in the morning slack pack back to the pond and collect water. At least we had a plan.
Even before we approached the cache, fervent prayers were being uttered.
As we weaved through the chacain into the fenced off cache, we paused before opening the box. “Please Lord, let there be water here”, was the final prayer.
Prayers answered and successful gamble. Fresh. Clear. Tasteless water!
The morning found us a little stiff, but nothing ibuprofen and a cup of coffee can’t fix. We decided that we would have to apply a different tactic to walking, as our unplanned 10 day “taper” from hiking before we started on the CDT did NOT help. The weight of our packs to start with, was another factor. And, coming from sea level to 7000 ft plus didn’t help either. Today we will employ a four mile, to one hour break method, in hopes of not feeling so “trashed” at the end of the day, after completing our intended mileage.
We stuck to our plan. Up until we started to break from our second 4 mile break, we hadn’t seen another soul. With that said, we mostly took our breaks smack dab in the middle of the trail. Never did we think that a truck would come barreling down the road. Likewise, never did the occupants of said truck ever think they would find people “lounging” in the middle of the road. This led to a pleasant conversation, as they were scouting the area for their pronghorn hunt in September. They asked if we had sufficient water, which we did, and we both headed in opposite directions.
Out of Bull Springs it is literally a straight shot all the way to A&M reservoir. This does not mean that it is flat or wind free. For 13 miles we gradually, and sometimes not so gradually gained in elevation.
Even though the wind was howling, we diligently followed our 4/1 walk/rest ratio. This found us “napping” at the highest point (7585 ft)…in the wind, and our second encounter with another human.
It was if this guy appeared out of nowhere. Granted we were napping. But once again, in the middle of nowhere, what do you think the chances are of running into a guy wearing a backpack, pushing a pet stroller, up a hill, on the CDT? Turns out he was a section hiker, out of Laramie. He used the stroller to “carry” some if his gear and his 2 gallons of water. I believe he said he started from South Pass. He told us of a water cache and that the trail north of A&M reservoir was “mostly downhill” and sandy. We wouldn’t realize until the next day, what he meant. Let’s just say that we found a whole new level of respect for this guy the following day.
When we arrived, and walked up the side road to the reservoir, we flushed a dozen or more of what initially appeared to be “super chickens”, or grouse on steroids. A family was fishing at its base, and said that the Fish and Game has stocked it with rainbow trout the day before. As we were scouting for a place to set up our tent, the family packed up and left. Was it something we said? Or maybe the smell?…the wind WAS blowing in their direction.
Like clockwork, as soon as we began to set up our tent in what initially was the only “flat” spot we could find, the wind increased in it’s verocity. Paul, being ever the problem solver, got a brilliant idea and began to smooth out the “beach” area, that appeared to be somewhat more “protected” from the wind. We collected our gear and relocated our tent to our engineered “flat spot” for the evening. An hour later, after wrestling our tent and the wind, in what can only be described as a three stooges episode… the wind abated. Go figure.
Day 4 (15.6 miles)
The next morning we are blessed with a remarkable, windless sunrise. But there’s no time for lollygagging, we have miles to crush. My toe was still sore, but not un-walkable. The trail out of A&M reservoir is “easy” dirt road tread, and we travel the 4 miles to our first scheduled break in “record” time. As we break we notice menacing dark skies on the horizon in the direction of where we are headed. The air grows much cooler and the wind picks up. Yup, it is painfully certain we are walking directly into rain. As a prophylactic, we put on our rain jackets and pack covers, and pray that the dark skies dissipate. In no time, the trail goes from packed dirt, to soft sand.
Extremely soft sand! Like going to ocean, beach sand. How ironic is it that we find ourselves in Wyoming walking for miles in soft sand. This is when we realized what “stroller guy” meant. And this is when we gained an even greater appreciation for his experience and grit.
The tracks of his stroller being pushed UPHILL in soft sand remained as we trudged northbound, on a downward trajectory…in the increasing rain. By now we are thoroughly drenched, and beginning to get cold. It’s way past time to dig out our rain pants, but we do. And, of course they are on the very bottom of our packs. Rain pants on and umbrellas unfurled, we duck down into the sagebrush in an effort to ride out this storm cell. We found walking in soft sand, against the wind, in a torrential downpour, to be trifecta of misery. We sat for over an hour, and up until the point we began to shiver. Independently, we were trying to figure how (or if) we should set up our tent to stave off pending hypothermia, or if we should try and walk ourselves “warm”. Simultaneously we announced to each other, “I’m getting cold, we need to start moving”.
Moving was a good decision, as there was really no place to set up. Onward, we trudged in the soft sand that oscillated in depth. Eventually the rain slowed to a light “patter” upon our hoods. A rancher and his wife drove by us checking on their cattle. “Nice day for a walk”, they said stopping briefly to make sure we were okay. “Nice day for a drive”, Paul responded with a chuckle. “We’d give you a ride, but we’re going in the opposite direction”, the wife said with a smile. “We’re good thank you. It’s all part of the experience”, we replied with tentative smiles.
Liquid sunshine returned to full, raging, sunshine…with a touch of humidity. The heavy ranch truck that had passed us earlier laid down wonderful tracks in the soft sand. This made for “lighter” steps. In no time we were back to hard packed dirt and rock as our route climbed over small hills toward our day’s destination, Brenton Springs. In the near distance, pronghorn would stare at our silver bobbing umbrellas, and then dart away to “safety”.
We arrive at Brenton Springs and consider collecting some water and continuing another 3.4 miles to the next “reliable” water source. This would make it a 19 mile day, but we just can’t muster the energy. The soft sand, and shivering in the rain drained us more than we realized. The next 3.4 miles would have also been a 800 foot climb. 800 feet isn’t much, but when you’re tired, it isn’t inviting.
We wrestled with the idea as we collected water. We had plenty of daylight. In the end, the mind was willing but our bodies said, “Hell No!”. I really hate getting older.
Dejected, we set up camp in the only “flat” place we could find…the middle of the trail. We are sensing that this is beginning to be a trend.
Not continuing on turned out to be fortuitous, as a SOBO section hiker, “Still Deciding” provided us with water “intel” that included confirmation that the CDTC water cache at mile 1676.9 was stocked and maintained. This would prove to validate a gamble.
Tomorrow would be an early start with breakfast after a 3.4 mile 800 ft climb. And we thought when we graduated from college, our morning workouts were over.
Our first 12 miles of the CDT out of Rawlins, into the Great Divide Basin was everything we read about. The Great Divide Basin is one of the only areas where the accumulated rainfall stays “local”, as there is no outlet that flows to either the Atlantic or the Pacific. The ground is so “thirsty” that it gets absorbed rather quickly.
Dirt road walking. Some single track. Over-land follow the carins. Over-land search for and prop back up the carins. Over-land navigation…NO carins. Of that, we were right at home.
The terrain was reminiscent of our hunting adventures. Dry and dusty, covered in sage and bitter brush.
Right off the bat we saw three young bucks and a doe. Not much further down the trail we were treated to four pronghorn, who ran like the wind when they saw us. Horny toads of all sizes, playing “Frogger” would scurry across our path at regular intervals.
That reminds me, did I happen to mention the wind? The wind in Wyoming is unrelenting, much like waves crashing on a beach. Sound wise, we were right at home. In fact the first night at our hotel we woke up to what we thought was big surf…it was only the wind. Before setting off, we spent two days in Rawlins running around mailing packages and getting ready to go. During that time the wind blew 25-30 miles an hour, non-stop.
But according to a local, “Winters are really harsh around here that’s when the wind starts to blow.” Note to self, don’t be here during winter.
As luck would have it, we actually had little to no wind our first day on the trail out of Rawlins. Temperatures didn’t get much over 70. Our (my) pace was half strides as my pinky toe was still in the throws of repairing itself, so smaller steps were in order to keep it from screaming at me for pushing off too briskly. Other than that, and with the exception of heavy packs laden with food and water, we found the trail much easier than our normal training hikes. Finding a flat place without sharp rocks and plants to set up camp, that’s a whole other story.
Day 2 (16 miles): This morning started out pretty good until we had to start bush whacking. Finding carins became nearly impossible, as just about every fiberglass CDT sign post had snapped at it’s base. We assume from the wind.
We had to look for “unusually piled” rocks to find our way. At one point, a herd of wild horses galloped past us within 25 yards. It was a spectacular sight to see. We watched them as they expertly made their way through the scrub brush, kicking up rust colored soil.
We did our best to follow the “red line” that marks the trail on our Guthook app, but it was painfully slow. Not the app, but us. The topo mapping on the app didn’t necessarily “match” the terrain we were faced with. At one point we decided instead to follow the horses. They had gone down a wash and continued away from us toward a road we had used to cache some water. We took this as a sign and we followed their path as they obviously knew where they were going. We found it infinitely “easier” than the required bushwacking through sage and bitter brush to follow “official” CDT route. Eventually it led us to Oil to Mine road, of which we were familiar.
As we walked the asphalt road, we lamented the fact that not only did we forget to bring a set of binoculars, we had also turned down a pair offered by our friend Mike, believing we already were carrying too much weight as it was. Idiots! Binoculars would have made ALL the difference finding the carins regardless of their “state of repair”, and would have made our progress all that more efficient. As it was, it took us two hours to go three miles! Too late now. Two and a half hours later, we finished our 5 mile road walk, reconnected with the CDT, and collected our cached water.
After an hour off of our aching feet (road walking takes a toll on ones feet), we started on our way. Our destination was Bull Springs, another 7 miles or so. Had we not cached water, it would have been a 19 mile stretch from the last water at Fish Pond Spring to Bull Springs. At our pace, and over this terrain, that would have meant having to carry 5 liters each…an extra 10 pounds!
As a side note: while we rested and ate our lunch, we couldn’t help but notice the darkening skies in the near distance. ‘Surely it won’t rain, will it’, we thought. No sooner than we were 2 miles into our next leg, but fat droplets of rain began to fall, followed by ground shaking thunder…and hail. Quickly we donned our pack covers, rain jackets, and unfurled our umbrellas. We watched the skies for any signs of lightning, wherein we would have to hastily abandon the umbrellas and figure out how to make ourselves “small”.
Drenched and cold, we found an outcropping of rocks to block the wind and sit out the rain a bit. It eventually passed us nonchalantly, afterwhich we regrouped and continued on our way. At least the trail would not be dusty.
Once the rain passed it became searing hot once again as we traveled over dusty and rock strewn ATV/ranch roads and a few inadvertent game/cow trails. On the CDT one needs to constantly check the Guthook app or you can find yourself walking into oblivion. I dare say that paper topo maps would even be helpful as ever feature looks so similar and there are so many tracks to choose from.
With 2 more miles to go, the terrain changed slightly and a swath of greenery began to appear. Hallelujah, we were just about to Bull Springs. We arrived with plenty of daylight to get water and continue, but we were gased. But then we knew that these first few days, if not weeks would be challenging as we build our trail legs and backs.
After a healing nap, we (Paul) collected water from the cistern within the spring. A red winged black bird continued to dive at and “yell” at Paul as he collected our water. It wasn’t until we saw the nest at the edge of the spring that we understood why.
Bull Springs is aptly named, and is cow central. The cows were quite curious and a little territorial with us having taken up a portion of their “lounge” area.
The bull on the other hand couldn’t be much bothered with his “attention” elsewhere. In fact we are sure that he is an old bull as he had his way with about every cow in the area. Our dinner’s “entertainment was “cow porn”…an unforgettable experience.
Nothing like making a difficult trail more difficult by breaking ones pinky toe two weeks before send off. Who would have thunk that helping my daughter clean her car would result in a broken toe. [For those who are curious, I exited the driver’s side back seat and my left pinky toe caught the edge of the tire and “stayed” as I went to walk around the back of her vehicle. The toe made a “hard left” resulting in an complete angulated fracture. Almost without thinking, amidst a dump of adrenaline, and a cascade of profanity, I reduced the fracture and put it back “in place”.
This is a photo of a Xerox copy enlarged, so break is harder to see. It’s still offset a bit, but a complete break, nun-the-less.
The doctor said I did a “remarkably good job”, which meant there was nothing for her to do but confirm the fracture through x-ray and buddy tape my pinky toe to it’s “neighbor”. The best part, was that it will take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to heal, but I can still hike on it…after at least 10 days “rest”.
But wait there’s more…
Paul, not wanting to be left out, and keeping with our penchant for adding an unnecessary degree of difficulty to this already complicated hike, severely burned the top of his hand. The irony is that he was also helping our daughter. He was changing out the oil sensor in her car, and did not figure on how hot the manifold still was. The result was a severe 2nd degree burn the size of one of those LARGE heal blister band-aids to the top of his right hand. When our son saw it, he thought it was bad enough to go to the hospital. Did Paul? NOPE! “What would be the point?”, was his response. It wasn’t like he required a skin graft or something. Just keep it clean and let it scab over and heal…eventually.
NOBO…ish, it Is!
So far, the “plan” is working nicely. Everything is in various, but positive, phases of healing and we are on track to start hiking as much as we can of the Continental Divide Trail, starting in Rawlins Wyoming and heading northbound.
Rawlins you ask. Yes Rawlins. As it works out, this is a perfect place to start from. It’s nearly halfway from either border, Mexico or Canada. For all practical purposes, it’s “Spring” in the desert of Wyoming. This means the springs and watering holes are still viable, which means “shorter” water carries and more “reliable” sources for water. The first 100 miles (North bound) are relatively “flat”, and will allow us to “work” into building our daily mileage, especially with my broken toe. We also significantly reduce the probability of having to walk in/through snow as we travel northward.
Wyoming, for the most part is open, all the way to Yellowstone. By the time we get to Yellowstone, we will know whether Montana has fully opened up, to include Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation. If it isn’t, we’ll flip back to Rawlins and head South bound (SOBO) from there and knock out Colorado and the San Juan mountain range, before we head home to prep for our annual hunting trip (gotta fill the freezer). By that time, most, if not all of the snow will have melted at the higher elevations.
We have our Wyoming resupply boxes prepared…with way too much food. Or at least it seems that way. We have weighed our packs, and absent food and water, they are heavier than what we had hoped for. Being prepared for ALL kinds of weather, especially at higher elevations, adds up.
My phone is the only thing not pictured here. Paul carries the Delorme.
Not to mention, my electronics have added just shy of 3, additional pounds. These however, are “necessary” pounds if I am to keep up this blog, make a few videos and ensure our phones (for mapping) and Delorme InReach Explorer+, are fully operational.
We have no illusions, that the first week will be anything but pleasant. Miles will come harder than we had hoped they would.Wyoming is known for its wind. We had our first experience with “Windy-oming” during a hunting trip a few years back. Our lips and faces will become quickly chapped. Dust and dirt will squeeze its way into every nook and cranny. Keeping Paul’s wound clean will be a challenge. Cow pounds, lengthy water carries, and quickly drying springs and creeks will challenge our ability to stay appropriately hydrated. Not having been able to train for going on 2 weeks will make the wind and the carrying of “extra” weight (both body and pack), that much harder. If we are to do this, we have no choice but to push through the pain and discomfort. Our resolve and “cabin fever” will be the motivating factors that will push us through the initial “cruelty” that will be imposed upon our bodies.
But Is It Worth It?
No matter what, it will ALL be worth it. We have been on enough “adventures” and hiked enough miles to know that the greater the “sweat equity”, the greater the reward, be it visual or experiential. The complications of being mindful of each state and county/town’s “guidance” in response to COVID-19 push the challenge of logistics to an art form. But isn’t that how we grow and evolve? Pushing the envelop of comfort and ingenuity?
We only have so many “laps” around the sun. No one knows the day/hour, let alone our condition or the circumstances, we will be called “home”. Why wouldn’t one fill one’s life with “adventure”, no mater the effort. So if you ask, “Is it still worth it?”, ‘HELL YES!’, is our only response.
Wish us luck. I’m pretty confident we’re going to need it.
*Portions previously posted on The Trek , June 9, 2020.
When faced with a dilemma or possible life-threatening situation, you can do one of three things.
Die (also known as Give Up)
Regardless of the situation, you have to pick one. The severity or timeliness of a situation dictates how quickly that choice/decision is made. For us, there have always been only two choices. Adapt or Migrate. To Die or Give Up has never been a viable option, professionally or personally. With that said, our plan to hike the CDT, in these current times, requires some adaptations. What was supposed to be a straight NOBO mid-April thru-hike of the CDT, has morphed into a possible late-June (early July), mid-trail, flip-floppy hybrid.
It All Depends
The day, location, and direction we will start the CDT all depends on the evolution of the ever-changing guidelines and state specific orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The openings of significant national parks (Yellowstone, Glacier), and snow conditions must also be considered. Wyoming is open in that it has rescinded its 14-day (out of state) quarantine order, and it looks like Montana is starting to open. This is not to say that our postponed thru-hike of the CDT has been fully “green lit.” It, however, is looking ever more promising with each passing day. I have to say the Continental Divide Trail Coalition(CDTC) is pretty good about providing current information, guidelines, and links for each of the five states that the CDT traverses. The Postholer Snow Conditions report also has great information on the snow situation for not only the CDT, but other long trails as well.
Train as if You’re Going
With a multitude of trails/routes near our home, we have been “Home Blazing.” And no, it does not involve the use of cannabis. We coined the term “Home Blazing” because all our training hikes started from, or ended at, home. This has allowed us to get our miles in and to better prepare our feet and backs, for the “brutality” of the CDT. It has also enabled us to stay within the parameters of our state’s stay-at-home orders.
For going on nearly two months we have loaded our packs with anywhere from 10-25+ pounds (in addition to the “pandemic pounds” we have put on), and mixed up routes between backcountry trails, fire road hills, and neighborhood streets. However, once the trails fully opened, we stopped walking the neighborhood streets. The cement was killing our feet.
In our abject boredom of Home Blazing we have created an ever-expanding circuit that now includes the circumnavigation of our town (can’t bring myself to call it a city even though there are nearly 65,000 people who live there). We hiked sections of this route, as they opened up, from either being overgrown, or closed, due to COVID-19 closures. Once all sections opened, we set about to hike it all in one day, not really knowing what the actual total mileage would be (20-26 miles), or the snake situation.
Turns out it registered at 23 miles. We did it in one day. If you’re interested in what it looked like, we made a video.
San Clemente Pier to Summit to Pier (PSP) Challenge
Our video debuted to a rousing response having posted it on my personal Facebook page and the San Clemente Life Facebook page. As I understand it, several people attempted it this past weekend. We are waiting for feedback on their times and how they found the route. One person even asked us to lengthen it to a marathon! We promised to do that when we get back from hiking the Continental Divide Trail, as we’ll be in awesome shape by then.
…and speaking of the Continental Divide Trail. It looks like the dream is going to become a reality very shortly.
On my previous post Home Blazing, I had mentioned a local hike/route that we were devising. We have since completed the route and have dubbed it the San Clemente Pier to Summit to Pier Challenge, or for short, the San Clemente PSP Challenge.
BTW…we are soon headed to the CDT. Details to follow.